When Sex Pistol Steve Jones called Bill Grundy a “dirty fucker” on live television (amongst other four-letter pleasantries) in 1976 it caused a national outcry of screaming tabloid headlines and livid viewers claiming to have kicked in their television sets in disgust. Even though it only happened on a local television show in London it was on at 6 o’clock in the evening just when families were sitting down for their tea. Back then swearing was a very rare occurrence on British telly even in the evenings after the so-called 9pm “watershed” when you’d hardly hear even a “shit” or “bollocks” (unlike today when there’s plenty of effing and blinding), so someone using the F-word* — at teatime! think of the children! — was like a bomb exploding in your living room.
Being only 14 at the time I thought it was all very funny, swear words were thrilling things because they upset grown ups and we weren’t supposed to say them (though my mum only ever seriously frowned on the C-word) and punk didn’t just bring rude words to our television sets but it produced a whole stream of expletive-laden records that pissed all over the concept of good taste and gave it a good kicking too: The Pistols’ “Bodies”, The Stranglers’ “Bring On The Nubiles” and the brilliantly pithy “Fuck Off” by Wayne County & The Electric Chairs which achieved legendary, whispered-about status at my school even though most of us had never actually heard it. These records were talked about like illicit contraband amongst us kids, hearing them — or just hearing about them — gave you the same dangerous thrill you got from reading the dog-eared copy of James Herbert’s gory novel “The Rats” that got passed around school with all the nasty bits bookmarked.
Another record that was talked about like some dark dirty secret we all shared was the comedy album “Derek and Clive (Live)” by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore which came out the same year the Pistols dropped their bombs on Bill Grundy and fit in perfectly with the sweary zeitgeist of the times. Derek and Clive were the drunken, foul-mouthed twins of their cuddly Pete ‘n’ Dud characters and the album was so full of profanity and bad-taste that even Lenny Bruce would have been moved to write an outraged letter to Mary Whitehouse about it. In many ways the album was like the comedy version of “Never Mind The Bollocks” — it was banned by the BBC, WH Smith wouldn’t stock it, and it almost got them prosecuted for obscenity. I had it on tape and my mates and I would sit in the stairwell of my council estate at night listening to it in awe at the level of vulgarity on it, and of course we thought it was hysterically, trouser-wettingly funny — as a song on the album said, I haven’t “laughed so much since Grandma died or Auntie Mabel caught her left tit in the mangle”.
The most notorious sketch was “This Bloke Came Up To Me” in which Dudley Moore spews such a tidal wave of filthy language that, now I’m older and more sophisticated, seems to me to be less funny than just plain surreal. “The Worst Job He Ever Had” literally is surreal though, of course, also full of very rude words. Needless to say, these are highly NSFW as well as NSFSC (Not Safe For Small Children) and probably NSFDL (Not Safe For Delicate Ladies).
*The first person to say “fuck” on British television was Kenneth Tynan in 1965, an event so singularly notorious I first knew Tynan’s name because of that incident years before I found out he was also a brilliant critic and essayist.